As a syndicated reporter on the careers beat (among others), I write often about prioritizing work tasks and increasing productivity. Several experts I interviewed offered the same advice: “Eat the frog first.”
The “frog” is your biggest, most important task of the day. The one you dread and might otherwise put off. If you complete this task first thing in the morning, the experts say, you’ll have a sense of achievement and the satisfaction of knowing the worst is behind you. A frog in the belly is motivating.
However, if you put off your froggy feast to do smaller, less important things, the frog will sit and stare at you with its rheumy, remonstrative eyes. You’ll feel uneasy and lack the time and energy later in the day to swallow him whole. That means a missed deadline and an all the more daunting to-do list the next day. The frog’s not getting any smaller, after all. Or tastier for that matter.
The frog theory of productivity is explained in full in Brian Tracy’s bestseller “Eat That Frog: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time,” or you can watch a 90-second video about it.
As for me, I can’t always stomach frog for breakfast. I find it’s sometimes necessary to warm up to tackling the day’s most critical task. It’s best on those days to finish a couple of easy things first, which gives me the immense satisfaction of checking one or two items off my to-do list while still on my first cup of coffee. Should you choose to try my tadpole-for-breakfast approach to productivity, the key to success is starting off with must-do tasks you can complete without much effort. It’s not the time for busy work like purging your email inbox. That’s the sort of task that sucks up a lot of time and inevitably leads to diversions like online shopping and cat video marathons. Rather, it’s the ideal time to deal with that one important email you’ve not yet replied to. Getting some pesky little tasks out the way builds some momentum and gives your coffee time to kick in. It makes the frog look a little more palatable.
Whether you reach for a tadpole or frog, the key to beating procrastination is to take that first bite, according to CareerCast publisher Tony Lee, whom I quote in my article on the three deadly P’s (people-pleasing, perfectionism, and procrastination).
“Just do something. Make an opening move of any kind,” Lee urges.
If dairy sounds yummier for breakfast than amphibians, you’re in luck. Lee shares his “Swiss cheese method” to sustain momentum by achieving a series of small successes: “You don’t need to commit a big block of time all at once. Think of several easy tasks that can be done in 10 minutes or less.”
Success begets success, he adds, and emboldens you to move on to bigger things. Like your frog. It’s not going anywhere. Trust me.